I am, and always have been, a good girl. I don’t break the rules. I arrive prepared. I don’t make trouble. I earn everyone’s affection, including the Lord’s (at least I like to think I do).
When I imagine myself in the story of the prodigal son, I am the older brother – the brother who is glad when his good-for-nothing sibling leaves home because it makes him look so much better by comparison. He preoccupies himself more with how his brother’s absence benefits him than with compassion for his father’s broken heart. With the younger brother gone, it’s all about me.
Except that it’s not. I feel the older brother’s resentment that even after all of that, the Father loves his wayward son. I see my father longingly search the horizon at the beginning and end of each day, and righteous anger wells up inside of me.
I feel ugly satisfaction watching my younger brother stagger down the long path home. I’m pleased to see that he is barefoot, dirty, and in rags. He has gotten what he deserves. I look forward to hearing my father tell him so.
Except, of course, that he doesn’t. My sap of a father welcomes him home, embracing him, allowing all that filth to soil his own clothes. I’m envious. I want that hug for myself. I can’t even watch this reunion, let alone offer my own welcome.
When I finally notice the servants preparing the party, I’m enraged. He already got his inheritance! All that’s left is rightfully mine.
I’m seething. My teeth clench. I can’t be a part of this farce, so I have to step outside. I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic. I secretly hope that this childish display of mine will lure our father out with me so that I can show him how he’s been duped.
I won’t say anything about the fact that it’s my inheritance he’s wasting. That would make me look selfish, as though my concern is for the material things he’s wasting. In reality, it’s the love that bothers me. The love he is lavishing on this selfish, immature child who will never learn his lesson. He screwed up. He deserves punishment and ridicule.
It’s me the Father should be celebrating, after everything I’ve done for him. I’m the good girl.
I hear him speak and, deep down beneath the rage, I know that what he says is something beautiful. I know it, but I don’t want to hear it. I won’t let it penetrate, I am angry, and it feels powerful to be angry. I’d rather be mad and alone than be merciful.
I know that eventually, I will return to them. The anger will burn out, and I will see my father’s point of view. I’ll learn from this. I will see that my anger, my rejection of my brother, my desire to earn love rather than to receive it as a gift, these actions are as wasteful as my brother’s. Maybe more; instead of squandering wealth, I have squandered love. When the anger settles enough for me to remember this, I will grow in humility. I will return contrite, a part of my family once more.
Prodigal means “wasteful,” and from the older brother’s perspective, the Father is the one who is truly wasteful. He wastes his mercy on us, his sons. We are full of malice, bitterness, and hate. Even those of us who don’t run away from the Father are very seldom near. This coming Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday, a day to remember the extravagant goodness of the Lord. He is a prodigal God, a God who wastes his mercy on us, again and again, and thankfully so. The closer I get to him, the more clearly I can see how much I need it.
Do you recognize yourself in this parable? What is most challenging to you about God’s mercy?